Words without action mean little, but words can be a starting point. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA+) community knows this better than most. Despite the NALSA verdict that recognised the rights of transgender persons and the decriminalisation of consensual same-sex intercourse, Indian law, lawmakers, and society still have a long way to go until sexual minorities are accorded due dignity, rights and opportunities. An excellent example is the inadequate Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act passed over the protests of trans activists.
One must read the Tamil Nadu government’s notification of a Tamil glossary on appropriate language to be used for the community in this context. The glossary is the product of a high court order that has also resulted in guidelines for police. The glossary finally notified was produced in consultation with community members. Although there are some sticking points—description of gender fluid, for instance, uses a word that translates to instability—it is a step in the right direction.
Members of the community remain mocked and taunted by the crudest of terms, even in public speech and popular culture. At the same time, those whose identities may fall within that of a sexual minority find themselves without a language to describe who they are. The glossary, with statutory backing, validates their experiences even in the face of any societal or familial pressure they may encounter. With the court ordering media organisations to employ the correct terminology, the most harmful and outdated of language may possibly be replaced in the popular lexicon.
Yet, the glossary must be treated as a living document that evolves progressively along with our understanding and knowledge. Similarly, the document must not be adhered to inflexibly so that members of the community are unable to access entitlements for choosing to describe themselves differently. Words without action mean little. But the words of this glossary could be a beginning, a step at least, in the direction of a society that learns to treat LGBTQIA+ persons with the respect and dignity they are due.